“This is not a Wells Tower Interview” & The ‘Receptive Experience’

On a freakishly sunny day in early November I kidnapped Wells Tower and took him on an impromptu tour of Pittsburgh (fueled by my lack of knowledge of the city) and we had a conversation and some whiskey. We talked a lot about the dangers of the internet, kittens, whiskey, bicycles, Foucault, tombstones, Lydia Davis, beach houses, Samizdat, favorite childhood books, what it takes to write well, punk bands, PDX, writing letters, Iceland, kayaking, having brothers, revising, Post WWII male writers, Amy Hempel, future writing cabins, key lime pie, the love of tiny dogs adopted out of guilt, ‘The Loss of the Creature,’ New Orleans, the history of Zines, Thin Lizzy, chocolate chip cookies….and much more. I wrote it all down, typed it out, cut and pasted it, added original artwork from a wonderfully talented Los Angeles based artist and filmmaker, some clip art, and I old school Xeroxed the thing. The great thing is that you can actually HOLD this interview in your hands, you can read it. It’s awesome. (via Hot Metal Bridge)

My publicity copy of “This is not a Wells Tower Interview” arrived with a handwritten note from Jen Howard, the not-interviewer, asking that I refrain from directly referencing any of the zine’s content on the Internet.

When I first read about “This is not a Wells Tower Interview” (via Vol. 1 Brooklyn), I knew right away that I wanted a copy. I didn’t love each and every story in Tower’s collection, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, but I return to certain stories (“Executors of Important Energies,” “The Brown Coast,” “Retreat”) to study the construction of his “fiery, ecstatic word[s], Molotov cocktail[s] against syntactic dreariness.”

I have no experience with zines. Punk rock has only recently started making sense to me, its communitarian message and spirit finally loud and clear above all that noise. In the zine, Wells Tower offers sage and slightly-ecstatic words (which I’m not permitted to quote here) about how all zine cultures are informed by democratic ideals, as well as a sort of informal apologia for the selective (perhaps even exclusive) communities they create.

Meghan Daum’s recent essay, “Haterade,” about how the Internet is uniquely suited to infectious (as well as democratic) forms of invective, has some relevance to this unusual small-press venture:

Whereas the old-fashioned letter to the editor involved crafting a letter, figuring out where to send it, springing for a stamp, and knowing that its publication-worthiness would be determined by an actual editor who might even call and suggest some actual edits, today’s readers are invited to ‘join the conversation’ as if the work of professional reporters and columnists carries no more authority than small-talk at a cocktail party. And although some sites are making efforts to weed out the trolls by disabling anonymous posting, filtering comments through Facebook, or letting readers essentially monitor themselves by flagging or promoting comments at their own discretion, most are so desperate to catch eyeballs wherever and however possible that they’re loathe to turn down any form of free content.

Later in the article, Daum writes:

Ugly commentary doesn’t just litter the internet, it infects it. It takes the act of reading an article or watching a video or listening to a podcast and turns it from a receptive experience into a reactive one.

“This is not a Wells Tower Interview” provides its reader with a purely “receptive experience.” It doesn’t send one flying quick-fingered or high-and-mighty to the keyboard. Instead, in its analog beauty, the zine functions as an intimate document about Jen Howard’s experience talking, and drinking, and self-reflexively thinking about talking and drinking, with Wells Tower. Its form partly resembles a personal essay, utilizing chapter marks to indicate Howard’s various digressions from the original assignment: an interview.

Yesterday, The Rumpus announced a new service called Letters in the Mail. A subscription guarantees letters from founder Stephen Elliott, Marc Maron, Jonathan Ames, Nick Flynn, Peter Orner, among others. In his “Daily Rumpus” e-mail, Elliott writes:

They’ll be letters, just like the kind you remember getting from your more creative friends twelve years ago or so. I’ll write some of them, longer letters that I would have sent as a Daily Rumpus maybe, but Letters In The Mail will not be available online. Ever. This is a totally print only publication […] Nick Flynn has already agreed to write one, as well as Wendy MacNaughton. I’ve also asked Tao Lin, Lidia Yuknavitch, Emily Gould, Dave Eggers, and Steve Almond. Any of those people might say no, but I have a good feeling.

In that “I have a good feeling,” I sense not cheap nostalgia for a bygone era of print media and letter-sending, but an unwillingness to submit totally and completely to screens, and the vast wasteland — immeasurably vaster than television — of the Internet.

A large part of “This is not a Wells Tower Interview”s appeal is its limited availability. It won’t be filed invisibly away, archived, like every keystroke or piece of Internet writing. The owner of the zine enters a small community of dedicated, well-informed, and, it must be said, necessarily Internet-hooked (copies sold out from Hot Metal Bridge’s online site relatively quickly) readers. It resists existing solely as a novelty, or an arch example of neo-Ludditism, by offering incredibly original and high-quality content. It rejects the notion that “sleekness” is an indicator of quality, and instead fools the reader into believing that he could have designed the zine himself. This grateful reader, however, isn’t fooled; I’m simply awed by the wonderful work Jen Howard and Hot Metal Bridge have put into this special and inspiring product.

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